At Last

On August 9, 1902, Edward VII was crowned King of the United Kingdom in Westminster Abbey. Finally.

Poor Edward had a hellish wait for the throne. His mother, Queen Victoria, loved wallowing in misery so much she refused to die and wound up with the longest reign of any British monarch in history. Subsequently, her son, Edward, had the longest wait for the throne of any Prince of Wales in history. Although he wanted to do something useful during his incredibly long tenure, like, say, learn how to be king someday, his mother refused to allow him access to important papers or meetings, partially due to the fact that she unreasonably held her eldest son responsible for the death of Prince Albert, his father, in 1861. Her refusal to give him anything useful to do didn’t prevent Victoria from bitching at him when all he did was party, just to fill the days. It seems Edward just couldn’t ever please his mummy.

When Queen Victoria finally died in 1901, Edward ascended the throne he’d waited so long for and began planning his coronation, which was scheduled for 26 June, 1902. But then Edward was diagnosed with appendicitis on the 24. Despite being in huge amounts of pain, Edward kept insisting the coronation go forward as planned, until his doctors told him he’d very well die if he did so, and then he allowed them to postpone the ceremony and perform the necessary operation. Thanks to Edward and his two able doctors, Frederick Treves and Dr. Lister, appendectomies, which had previously been rare operations, entered the medical mainstream.

As king, Edward was highly popular and went about making the monarchy more visible. He pioneered the notion of royal public appearances even before he inherited, opening landmarks that included Tower Bridge and the Thames Embankment. He also resurrected traditional ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament.

Despite the fact that his training in such matters had been sorely neglected, Edward turned out to be a fairly able politician and diplomat. He managed to win over the traditionally Anglo-hating French, and as a senior male relative of just about every monarch in Europe, he worked hard to make sure everyone got along and the balance of power wasn’t shifting too far one way or the other (though he was smart enough to be wary of his unstable German nephew, Wilhelm).

Unfortunately, Edward’s lifetime of smoking and overeating caught up with him quickly, and he enjoyed only about a decade on the throne before dying in May 1910. Still, like his mother, he left his indelible mark on an era, and he’s generally fondly remembered today as the man who created the modern British monarchy.


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